Experienced gas fitter on the Sunshine Coast. Servicing camper vans and bus conversions
While we would all love to be well off and drop a hundred or more on a luxury Winnebago, the reality is, most of us will never have that kind of loose change in our pockets and so we have to do it the hard way and do our own van or bus conversion.
Whether it's the ever popular Toyota Coaster or a 40 foot Volvo or even just a regular one tonne delivery van such as the Toyota Hiace or Renault Traffic, the fun part is we get to create a unique one-of-a-kind home on four wheels that will give an enormous sense of pride and achievement as well as a valuable lesson in resilience and ingenuity.
It doesn't really matter if the cupboards aren't plumb or if the styling is Seventies eco warrior with the ingrained odour of many a good trip, it will still provide comfort and a roof over your head. The thing that does really matter though is the gas. Installing the gas on a bus or van conversion is highly regulated for obvious reasons and to cut corners and do it yourself or get the bloke who unblocked your sewer last year to "have a go" is just asking for trouble. No need to tell you that it'll void your insurance but the main thing is... you want to be safe. And know that your safe. If not for your own sake, for the sake of the people travelling with you. Peace of mind and confidence that a professional gas installation that meets or exceeds the current gas regulations is everything.
To have a compliant gas installation on your bus or van will require following the rules for each of the following:
- Gas cabinet / locker location
- Gas regulator and pipework to appliances
- Ventilation for gas stove (if installed)
- Correct installation of gas fridge (if installed)
- Correct installation of gas hot water unit (if installed)
- Correct installation of bayonet valve for BBQ or external stove
- Compliance warning labels
Gas cabinet / locker location
The current gas regulations call for the gas cylinder compartment to be accessed from outside the van. However, should there be a doubt about the structural integrity of the vehicle in regards to cutting a large hole to fit the gas locker then the regulations allow for an internal cylinder compartment subject to strict rules. The most important requirement being that the compartment is vapour proof. The compartment requires a correctly sized drain to be fitted in the base and this drain must not be within the ignition exclusion zone. If it is then the drain can be extended via a correctly sized pipe to a safe discharge location.
Gas regulator and pipework
The gas regulator should be located in such a way as to permit a continuous rise of the pigtails from the gas cylinder valve to the inlet of the regulator. This is done to ensure that any liquid condensate runs back into the gas cylinder and not into the regulator. To have the regulator below the gas bottle may cause premature failure of the regulator as noted in gas safety alert 29 issued by the Queensland gas inspectorate in December 2006.
The copper pipework to gas appliances usually exits through the base of the gas cabinet (Not through the drain). The main run of pipework must be outside of the vehicle living space and must enter adjacent to each appliance. This means you can't take a short cut through the side of the gas cabinet and run the pipe through cupboards and under the bed etc just to save time and effort. Every gas appliance needs to have an isolation valve.
If you have a gas stove and or grill/oven installed then you must have the correct amount of ventilation at both high and low vents. The ventilation required is directly related to the gas input of the stove. The more gas it uses, the more ventilation is required. As an example, the Thetford Triplex range of cookers with grill and oven have a gas input between 23 and 32 megajoules depending upon configuration. This equates to a minimum ventilation requirement of 153 cm2 free area to 210 cm2.
The ventilation requirement also increases with the number of berths in the vehicle just to complicate matters. The total free area of ventilation required is to be divided equally between top and bottom ventilator. The gas regulations also state that if a fly mesh is fitted the size of the vent should be doubled. To put it bluntly, drilling a couple of holes and putting an aluminium vent over the top that itself only has a free area of 25cm2 isn't going to cut it. Vans can usually have the lower vent fitted to the sliding door. Buses can have the lower vent fitted in the lower stair well. The tricky part is the upper vent.
a lot of caravans these days are built from new with a 500mm x 500mm or 400mm x 400mm screened vent in the roof. These vents have permanent ventilation and that is great for caravans and motorhomes. The issue with conversions is who wants to cut a great big square hole in the roof when the roof is braced so well? Not only that, but roof space may be limited and fitted with solar panels or roof racks. One option is to go for a couple of mushroom vents. When the ideal vent is found and ticks all the boxes it shall be listed right here....
The important thing to remember about a three way absorption fridge is that it must be in a sealed recess so that there is no way for products of combustion to enter the living space. Another important thing to remember also is that the upper vent must be wholly above the condenser fins for it to work as intended. This is usually no problem with a van but with a bus full of windows it could be an issue. Please request advice before jumping in and buying your fridge only to find out that your cabinet is in the wrong place or you can't get a vent fitted at the right height.
For an absorption fridge to work correctly it has to have air flowing through it's condenser fins. The cool air rising will become heated as it passes through the condenser and this heat needs to escape as quickly and easily as possible. If it gets trapped at the top, it's going to reduce the efficiency of the whole absorption cooling process and the fridge may not work as well as expected especially on hot days. Many fridges get installed poorly with no attempt to follow the manufacturers instructions and so the owner ends up resorting to fans to try and force air through the condenser to make it work.
Gas hot water unit
Whatever you do, don't buy a Joolca or Country Comfort or any of the cheap eBay copies and expect to install it inside your van or bus. It's not going to work. These cheap continuous flow units are certified for portable use only and can't be installed with the gas permanently connected. Being open flue they can't be installed inside obviously. If you are prepared to step outside and hook up the gas and plumbing connections every time you get to a destination then it may work for you but hot water is an essential part of your mobile living experience. You should invest in your quality of life.
The main players in the RV hot water industry are Suburban, Truma, Atwood, Swift and a few others. These small 14 - 28 litre storage tanks are ideal for van and bus use in that they are compact and being small, they are quite good on the gas usage. Be aware that they all store hot water at 60 - 70'C and so a tempering valve to reduce the temperature to 50'C will be required. While still a bit pricey, manufacturers are starting to bring out more models in the continuous flow range. Girard has been making instantaneous style water heaters for a long time but now has compettition from Suburban Nautilus, Truma Aquago and Camec digital instantaneous to name but a few. Continuous flow are what they are. Continuous. If you're not careful, you'll drain your tanks while enjoying that extra long shower.
Bayonet valve for BBQ or slide-out stove
If you have the space you can have a slide-out external kitchen as well as an internal stove. Being a stowed appliance, the slide-out stove isn't allowed to be permanently connected to the gas unless it has a cut off mechanism. Usually the stove will have a bayonet hose connected for simple plug-in once in position. You will find that many camper trailers and caravans have two bayonet valves. You can have them fitted side by side so that your BBQ is close to you kitchen are or they can be separate at opposite ends or sides of the van / bus. It's your choice. I stock bayonet hoses in the 1.5m, 2m and 3m lengths.
Compliance warning stickers
Any new installation on a van or bus will require the following warning labels for compliance:
- LPG identification for gas storage compartment
- Only cylinders and associated equipment allowed in gas cabinet
- ventilation warning labels
- Do not use the cooker for heating label
- Keep pop tops up and curtains tied back warning label
Before you commence your van or bus build please get in touch for advice and a free quote. It's always best to get things done right first time and not to waste money. Good luck with the build and conversion!